March 3, 2015, by Todd Neva
“What happened to you?” a small voice asked this man whom she met at eye level on a boardwalk at Bond Falls.
“I got sick,” I said plainly.
The girl, perhaps four years old, stared at me without having to tilt her head back to see out from under the visor of her purple baseball cap with large, googly eyes.
“Have you ever been sick when your tummy hurt?”
She nodded. The empathy and her eyes melted my heart.
“It’s like that, but when I got sick, my arms and legs got weak. But don’t worry, you won’t get sick from talking to me.”
“You can’t walk?” the girl asked.
“No, but I’m okay, because I have a really good wife who takes care of me. When you get sick, your mommy takes care of you, right?”
“Yeah, my mom is from Turkey. “
“Merhaba.” I said the only Turkish word I knew.
Her mother said, “Say merhaba.”
She did, and we chatted. She was from Grand Rapids.
“Michigan?” I asked the question asked of me a thousand times in my life when I said I grew up near Grand Rapids.
“Minnesota,” she said.
I have an active social life under four feet.
Andrew. Abigail. Colin. Finley. These are the folks I talk to when you’re all conversing between 5 and 6 ½ feet. Don’t get me wrong, I like talking to grown-ups, too, but I get to do that all the time. What’s special is when a two-year-old girl comes around the corner and sees me sitting in the narthex, stops, looks at me expectantly, then dives in and hugs my knees.
“That’s amazing,” her mother said. “She never does that. She is usually very shy around adults.”
It’s the chair. It’s an equalizer. Except for the gadgets: Rumor got out last summer that I have rocket launchers on my wheelchair, after I warned one boy not to touch my buttons. There is an oil slick button. An ejection seat button. It’s best not to touch any of them.
And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3